This post could get very long very quickly, so instead I’m going to endeavor to keep this introductory discussion brief, with an array of crucial details to come later.
In my recent posts:
An Example of a Very Sad Google Account Recovery Failure — and How It Affects Real People
Potentially Serious Issues with Google’s Announced Inactive Accounts Deletion Policy
(and frankly, in many related postings over many years in this blog and other venues), I discussed the continuing problems of honest Google users being locked out of their Google accounts, often with a total and permanent loss of all their data (Gmail, photos, Drive files, etc.) that they entrusted to Google.
These lockouts can occur for an array of reasons — problems with login credentials, third-party hacking of accounts including (but not limited to) malware, Google believing that violations of its Terms of Service have occurred, and many other events.
Each of these is an entire complex topic area that I won’t detail in this post.
But the bottom line is that many Google users who feel that they have done nothing wrong find themselves locked out of their accounts — and crucially — their data at Google, and are unable to successfully navigate the existing largely automated account recovery procedures that Google currently provides.
Generally speaking, once a user who has been locked out of a Google account reaches this point, they are, to use the vernacular, SOL — there’s no way to proceed. Usually their data, no matter how important and precious to their lives, is lost to them forever.
To be sure, sometimes the failure to recover a Google account is rooted in the failure of users to provide or keep up to date the recovery information that Google requests for the very purpose of easing account recovery paths.
But the reality is that many users forget about keeping these current, or are reluctant to provide phone numbers and/or alternative email addresses (if they even have them) in the first place. That’s just the way it is.
And ultimately, even at Google’s enormous scale of users who use its services for free, there is something inherently wrong about honest users who lose so much of their lives — that Google has encouraged them to entrust to Google — when an unrecovered account lockout occurs.
Over and over again — in a manner reminiscent of the film “Groundhog Day” — desperate Google users who have been locked out have asked me if there was someone they could pay to help them? Isn’t there some way, they ask, for Google to do a deeper dive into the circumstances of their lockouts, the users’ official government IDs for proof, and other methods to authenticate them back into their Google accounts — as can be done at virtually all financial institutions and most other firms.
Right now the answer is no.
But the answer should be and could be yes, if Google made the decision — by no means a trivial one! — to provide the means for such “enhanced recovery services” for Google Accounts, which in some cases (e.g., when a user is indeed at fault as the root cause of the lockout) could be chargeable (that is, paid) services as a means to help defray the additional costs involved.
This is a very complicated area with an array of trade-offs and nuances. It’s likely to be highly controversial.
But as far as I’m concerned, the status quo of how Google account recoveries work (or fail) is no longer acceptable, especially in the current regulatory and political environment.
In future discussions, I will detail my thinking of how “enhanced recovery” for Google accounts could be accomplished in practice, and how it would benefit Google’s users, Google itself, and the wider global community that depends upon Google.
Take care, all.